Saturday, March 14, 2015

Who's left?

Bearing a few differences in American and British politics, it's too easy to draw comparisons betweeb Tim Lott's piece for the Guardian, and what Jonathan Chait wrote a couple months ago about the left's pattern of policing speech and thought. The reaction was predictably the same.

Here's the thing: I think about this a lot. My blog is a pretty good document of that. Unlike Tim Lott, I don't have a large platform. I'm not part of any "literati." My politics diverge enough from standard leftist ideology that I don't expect any kind of in-group support. I don't feel betrayed by progressives. Frustrated, yes, but not betrayed. I don't think that any of Lott's "sins" against the left are particularly transgressive, but I agree that the number of liberals who've felt alienated by the left is worthy of discussion, and I don't think they should be dismissed simply because they've hit the privilege jackpot. Actually, I think this is an argument we should be having irrespective of social standing.

When you're primary framework is dependent on power structures and positioning people on various axes of advantage and disadvantage, signaling to the correct group means dismissing Tim Lott or Jon Chait as "white men whining," even if you agree that they may have a point. With Chait, a lot of the responses went something like, "He's the most horrible of the horrible. He's awful. But I think he might be onto something. But I did I mention that I think he's horrible?" This doesn't really help your cause and sets more people up for resentment.

To compound matters, words like "identity politics," and "political correctness"  have been co-opted by the right to dismiss arguments about structural inequality, which is very real. But there's really no way to talk about those things without sounding like a whining douchebag, so they're conveniently ignored even when they may be apt. Inevitably, it's not the Jon Chaits or the Tim Lotts who's hurt by this rigid ideology. They're platforms are intact. It might sting for a while, but neither is in danger or losing his standing or employment. Nor should they be. But smaller, fringe writers who might have some interesting ideas are shut out of the conversation because they can't follow the rules properly. And that's a shame.